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U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown made the case that federal spending could lead to job growth and spur private development during a visit to downtown Kent on Wednesday, pointing to the city's $110 million downtown redevelopment project as an example.
The senator, in town to tour redevelopment efforts and meet with local business and community leaders, said using federal funding for projects like the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority's new downtown parking deck and the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, was more effective at creating jobs than cutting taxes for individuals in the upper tax brackets.
"You don't grow an economy by tax cuts for the rich trickling down," Brown said. "You grow an economy by focusing on the middle class and growing it out from there. That's what both parties in Congress said two weeks ago, and I think that's pretty established that's the direction we should go in. And part of that, I think, is more stimulus to put people to work, which then will mean fewer tax dollars going out the door."
Brown said that, unlike some of his colleagues, he was unashamed of supporting earmarks for his home state.
He said the $20 million Department of Transportation grant for the PARTA parking deck, which was part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, and $4 million in New Market Tax Credit funding for the hotel were used to create jobs and strengthen the local economy. Both projects are expected to open this spring.
Brown said he is a strong supporter of the New Market Tax Credit Program, which allocates $3.5 billion in tax credits for real estate and business developments in low-income communities each year. The program, created in 2000, was extended through 2013 by the Congress' deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.
"The New Markets Tax Credit is something we know works," he said. "I would think people in both parties understand that and it would likely be continued, but you never know."
Brown called his tour of downtown Kent, "pretty exciting," noting that he tries to visit the area when he can with his wife, Connie Schultz, a KSU graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist.
"I've been in Kent lots of times over the last 30 years and seen the problems and seen it coming back," Brown said. "This is a great picture for Kent."
Brown fired off questions to KSU and PARTA officials as he toured the neighboring hotel and parking deck sites at the corner of DePeyster and Erie streets, asking about how many workers were employed at the sites, when the projects would be completed and whether union labor was being used. Earlier in his visit, he asked employees at electro-mechanical manufacturer Ametek's new downtown Kent offices about their employment numbers and whether they should be working more closely with KSU to train potential employees.
He shook hands with workers at the downtown Kent construction sites and chatted with local business owners, including Gwen Rosenberg, who handed the senator a bag of popcorn, which he sampled, from her Acorn Alley popcorn shop, Popped!.
KSU President Lester Lefton and Kent City Manager Dave Ruller thanked Brown for his support and gave him a brief history of the collaboration between city, university and business leaders on the downtown Kent redevelopment project at Ametek's downtown Kent offices.
"We sort of all got together, held hands, prayed, lept and did it," Lefton said of the project. "What's gone on is about $110 million of public-private partnership."
Although Brown touted the federal spending role in reviving downtown Kent, he added that the project could not have worked unless it was "driven by attracting private capital and job creation."
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